Tag Archives: world building

Hello, I am writing a ‘Apocalypse’ story that also has mythical creatures in it and I am unsure how strong I should make them compared to humans. One of the main characters is a 16 year old Elf who was trained since he was ten, and I don’t want him to be too strong. Elfs can use Runes and subtle illusions in my story. I am unsure on the power levels of other Mythical creatures (like Fae, Ghouls, Centaurs, Merpeople and Chimera) as well.

They should be as strong as the story requires. There is no
concrete answers here, just world building, which is, ultimately, on you.

Let’s start with your main character. Elves (or Elfs, if you
prefer) aren’t real, so they don’t age at a fixed rate. Which means, saying he’s 16
years old isn’t that useful. I understand the intent behind your
statement, but it’s probably important to step back for a minute.

If we’re taking D&D’s setting basics, and running with
those, a 16 year old elf is a small child. Conversely, D&D’s perfectly
happy to call a 16 year old human an adult. This is, of course, assuming your
setting’s elves aren’t completely ageless, come into existence fully matured,
and then never change.

It’s worth remembering, when you’re building a fantasy
setting, that you control all of the
variables. Sure, your human characters should, probably, come across as mostly
human, in most cases, but even that’s not set in stone. Accusations that
Aragorn is unrealistic are fairly rare, and this is a character who’s in his
80s. (And, yes, there’s an entire internal justification for that, but Tolkien’s
race of Men aren’t really human. They’re another flavor of mythical beings,
like his elves and dwarves. Aragorn is a step further from that, but the point stands.)

When you’re talking about elves, that’s a very open topic.
Depending on your source of inspiration, that could be anything from beings
that are basically human characters, that have access to very advanced magic or
technology (and no, this isn’t an oblique Stargate reference), a variety of fae, normal
people who’ve been altered by some release of magical energy, or just another sentient species wandering your world. It’s up to you to define who and what they are, in your setting.

This also spills over into what sets them apart from a “normal”
character. What your elves are
is influenced by what you want to talk about. (Because your main character is an elf, their nature is far more important than if they were a minor side element in your setting.) Once you have that, then
you can start to extrapolate how your elves are different from other beings in
your setting. This could be as simple as your character being lumped in with
the other mythical beasts and viewed as a different flavor of monster by the
people he’s trying to save (or not), or it could be a coming of age story. This
will seriously influence what your elves are. How alien they are. How they age.
What their society looks like. It also affects how strong they are. Depending
on what you’re creating, it’s entirely possible your character is already a
superhumanly powerful engine of destruction by 16, whether he has the emotional
maturity to handle that or not. In turn, that would seriously influence how
elves are perceived by others in your setting. Or, he could still be a small child. Where he lands between these points is something that needs to fit the story you’re trying to tell.

To varying degrees, the same is true of the other creatures
in your world. If they’re supposed to be incredibly powerful, to the point that
normal beings can’t even slow them down, the apocalypse is an extinction event
in motion, then that’s your answer. If they’re more of an environmental hazard
that a well equipped group can deal with, again, that’s your answer. If they’re
a nuisance that only becomes a serious problem in large numbers, you get the
idea. In practice, you’ll probably want a mix of these things, depending on
what your setting needs. It’s entirely reasonable that you’ve got fairly common
threats like ghouls that can be dealt with, while still having far more powerful
beings like titans or leviathans wandering the world wrecking things. How these
interrelate will be influenced by the story you want to tell.

World building starts with the idea of wanting to tell a
story, and having a vague idea of what you want to talk about. Then
extrapolating a world that supports those ideas. Finally, you go back through
and start nailing down the fine details, like, “how powerful are these monsters?”
or, “how did people react to their arrival?”

This leaves me in a slightly awkward place: without knowing
what you’re trying to do, you’re asking for some of the final detail work
without knowing what you wanted to do in broader strokes.

At a very basic level, the more powerful the creatures are,
the more severely isolated human communities will be. I’m using power as an aggregate
here, endless swarms of easily dispatched monsters that will overwhelm and
obliterate can be more effective than a skyscraper sized
behemoth that shrugs off any injury.

At the extreme end, humans may be restricted to a handful of
small enclaves, and extinction could be imminent. On the other hand, you could
easily have a setting where survivors have retaken and fortified entire cities,
with heavily armed caravans wandering between, and smaller enclaves scattered
across the world.

It’s entirely possible you’re setting up an environment like
The Witcher. There are monsters, but
they’re more of a pest than a real threat, and the apocalypse which unleashed
them on the world is a dim memory.

There’s an old cop-out answer on physics exams, “the
problem cannot be solved with the available information.” That seems to apply
here. When you’re building your world, you have the  ability to shape it to fit your narrative.
Think about the kind of story (or stories) you want to tell in it, and build
your setting accordingly.


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If it’s not a bother, do you have a master list of different fighting styles? I’m in the process of world building and I want different tribes to have a different styles than the others.

We don’t, creating one would take a lot more time and in depth
research than either Starke or I are willing to commit. There are a lot
of different styles of combat out there, both currently alive and dead.

I will say that you’re coming at your research from the wrong
perspective. Combat is inherently and directly tied to your world
building, it isn’t an outside source where you pick from a list and you
slap the ones you like on top of that.

There are too many
different styles of combat that will not be applicable to your setting
and society, even if you find them visually interesting or have heard
that they are “the best”. More than that, they directly relate to
cultural attitudes about violence and their practitioner’s societal

The peasant who is not legally permitted to carry weapons
but must devise alternate options to defend themselves against raiders
and bandits will create a martial style that is totally different from
the lord in his ivory tower.

There will be historical examples
similar to what you’re looking for, but you begin by culling the
unnecessary factors such as cultures that are not applicable to the
world your creating and the time periods that accompany them.

you want to write a fantasy novel set in a setting similar to 14th
century Europe then there isn’t that much reason to begin by looking at
fighting styles from India, Japan, or China. (Though studying up on the
Middle East might be applicable.)

Start with your own setting and
the troubles these tribes face from where they live (mountains? valleys?
deserts?), what they eat/how they get their food (agricultural?
hunter/gatherer? raiding?), and the kind of technology that they’re
capable of devising i.e. what do they use? bows? knives? spears? what
are those tools made of? A large supply of refined ore, the ability to
create metal, and skills in blacksmithing are required for major
advancements like metal swords and armor. A society that is regularly on
the move won’t have a use for swords or develop them.

different styles of combat have been developed as a direct result of
devising a means to protect oneself from outside threats, this relates
to both the environmental factors and the society’s technological level
(i.e. what kinds of weapons they are capable of creating).

these will tell you what kind of society you have and the kind of
society you have dictates how they fight, how good they are at combat,
and the specialized styles that they developed as a result of their
unique experiences.

Once you understand the kind of society you
have, then your research pool is slimmed to the point where you can
easily look up similar societies that exist or existed in order to get a
better understanding of other considerations and the way they went
about it.

The mistake a lot of writers make when trying to devise
their own combat styles or utilize another combat style for their work
is the belief that they are interchangeable. However, combat and the
ways in which we fight are a result of environmental and sociological
factors as we adapt to face the threats that could end our existences.

have a culture that comes from the plains and must rove vast distances
in search of food? They may fight on horseback primarily, wielding bows
(also initially used for hunting) and they raid other groups for food.
Their style of combat relies heavily on mounted combat because horses
are the backbone of their society.

You’ve got a culture where the
primary source of food is too large or to dangerous to be brought down
single handed or is difficult to find. The primary weapon of the hunter
is the spear, but more than that they may also use other helpful tools
such as hunting dogs to locate and bring down their prey. Dogs have
historically been used as part of attack forces for a very long time.
The human and dog tag team against other humans is a legitimate combat

It’s not a question of “what is available”, it’s what do I
have and what is the natural and logical extension of those choices
then research thoroughly to develop a better understanding of the
concepts that you’re working with.

The way combat happens, the training, and the strategies employed are inherently tied to the cultures which create them, their societal norms, and their history.

Even approaches to combat training are heavily reliant on the historical period as most of our modern ideas of what army is are just that: modern.

You don’t want to be the guy who writes the story where his main character is practicing Aikido in 1150 England. And if you can’t tell me why that’s silly beyond Aikido being Japanese, then you need to do more research.


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How would you implement appendages such as claws or fangs of a fantasy/sci fi race (for example such as khajiit or some sort of humanoid alien species but not limited to) into a martial arts style? How would alternate biologies and physiologies affect what they’re capable of?

The thing that’s honestly kind of frustrating with the Khajiit is, they have a couple named martial arts. We’ve even seen characters proficient in them… and, no animations to go with them, or any real explanation for what they do or how they work. Khajiit use the standard unarmed animations, and get a slight unarmed damage bonus, leading to Punchcat builds.

But, that distraction aside, this is actually a world building question. Though, the Khajiit are a pretty good example of it, so we’ll keep track of them for a minute.

For characters with a non-human biology, any martial arts they develop need to do three things. They need to reflect their physiology, they need to reflect their society, and they need to account for the societies they interact with on a regular basis.

Physiology is the easiest. If your characters can bite, that’s probably going to be a part of any formalized martial style. If they have retractable claws, those will also probably find a home. It’s the same with stingers, barbed tails, horns, serrated plates. If the character can use it safely, and there isn’t a social stigma associated with it, they probably will. And, in an emergency, that stigma might not be enough to keep them from using it anyway.

The Khajiit are actually an interesting restriction on the physiology element. There’s actually seventeen different varieties ranging from bear sized cats, to the bipedal cat men seen in the games, to almost human looking, to intelligent house cats.

If you’ve never looked at it (and it’s not already becoming apparent), The Elder Scrolls is a very strange setting. One that’s passing itself off as normal, but poke it and weirdness starts to seep out everywhere.

I suspect a large part of why they’re so vague about what the martial arts entail is because most of those arts are supposed to be accessible to most Khajiit, and the range of physiologies makes trying to get into specifics impractical.

The characters’ culture will determine a lot of what is or isn’t socially acceptable. If you have a culture that embraces their bestial impulses, or just considers that a normal state of being, then again, they’re probably not going to have an issue using their claws, teeth, or other appendages.

It’s worth remembering that, for any civilized culture, proportionality is still very important in combat. For instance; if you have a race with a venomous bite, biting would be viewed as an attempt at lethal force. With all the associated consequences.

As with humans, the amount of harm done to the victim will be predictable, and their society’s values will influence how their violence is perceived.

If their culture considers their nature bestial, or something they seek to suppress it, then things like using their claws may be viewed as shameful. This would make attacks using them much more extreme.

I said there were external cultural pressures as well. The simplest way to think of this is, as an entire, societies are affected by peer pressure in the same way individuals are. It’s not as immediately apparent, but it can and does happen.

So, if your fantasy race is set apart from those around you by physiology, there’s a very real chance it will affect their outlook on the world, and their perception of self.

I realize this gets into an uncomfortable topic, but it’s one you should probably consider, both in building your world, and your characters.

A couple good things to look at: Though, none of these will be especially useful for the fighting specifically, they should help with world-building in general.

Lucasfilm’s Aliens Chronicles by Deborah Chester: What’s stuck with me, years later, was how distinct Chester managed to make the various alien races. It also does a great job exploring the potential effects of outside influences on a character.

Farscape: I know we’ve plugged this series before, but it’s very good. This is probably one of the best Sci-Fi television series out there. It populates it’s universe with loads of memorable and unique aliens. In part the writing uses that to feed the sense of otherness and alienation that it’s driving, but it usually keeps the strangeness on point.

Since we started with the Khajiit, it’s probably a good idea to look at The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, assuming you haven’t already. Skyrim’s tricky to recommend, though. The main story’s writing is fairly standard save the world fantasy fare, and the protagonist is a fantasy, demigod, superhero. But, the world it builds is far more interesting when they player isn’t shouting people off mountains to watch them ragdoll. Things like the treatment of Khajiit and Argonians by the Nords, are fairly easy to find. Digging up the full depth of the setting is a lot harder, and something the game doesn’t ever really suggest you should do. You really should.

The MMO will paint a more coherent picture, particularly of Khajiit and Argonian culture… but it’s also an MMO, so the signal to noise ratio is insane, and I’m not about to say you should spend 200+ hours to dig up it’s insights. Even if it does do a fantastic job of looking at racism and it’s aftermath, which might be relevant for you.

Morrowind is probably still the best game in the series, but, the last 13 years have not been kind to it. It’s wonderful, but incredibly slow. I can honestly say you’ll see a different world in that game, but it’s probably one that would take more of a time commitment than you have (even in comparison to the MMO). That said, if you’ve gone through the later games in the series, but missed this one. It is probably taking a look back.


You guys run an amazing blog and I’m constantly impressed by your knowledge. Very often, people write asking “My MC is __ and he/she does ___. Is this realistic?” And often, the answer is no. However, the majority of readers have no understanding of fighting, and also, fiction implies a breaking of rules. Generally, where do you draw the line between “This could work” and “aw, c’mon” (and further between “this is all wrong, but it ROCKS!”)? I figure the rules of the world play big into this…

The question is usually: well, which rules are you breaking?

In a fictional context, realism is entirely dependent on the fictional world you build for your characters. You have to define what those rules are before you can break them. When most readers go “oh, that’s not realistic!” what they are actually responding to isn’t the part where it goes against their “real world”, it’s a sign the author failed at communicating their world’s systems or broke their own rules. “That’s not realistic” is really just a higher brow way of saying “something’s not right here” or “that shouldn’t be possible” but the fictional work is defining what is possible.

With most MCs, it’s more about getting the writer to start thinking outside of their character. On one level: it doesn’t matter if it’s unrealistic. It really doesn’t. The question is, does the author realize that they can’t just make the rules one way for one character and not for anyone else?

If your MC can do it, more than likely your villain can. The average mook could. The kid wandering by on the street too. Anyone. Anywhere. Probably someone else.

It’s not about what will happen. It’s about what can happen because a story is more than a single character. For violence, there’s no safety net. To unironically take the best lesson from Avatar, when Aang attempts to learn to Earthbend “there’s no special trick-trickety trick that’s going to defeat that rock”. You can’t find a way around it with 100% certainty.

You’re always risking something when you put your character into combat and the sooner that gets internalized the better off you’ll be. Don’t believe your character will make it to the end of the story when you write combat. Believe they could die at any time. From any mistake. Completely by accident. Make your characters earn their right to survive. You’ll write better, I promise.

A writer who writes with the understanding that every fight they put their character into that character can die and has them act accordingly will always be in the “This is all wrong, but it ROCKS” category. Tamora Pierce’s fight scenes, for example, especially the ones in Protector of the Small when the kids are in genuine danger. They are dealing with the situation, there is a sense of a threat, a worry that they could die, and they are thinking it through or accepting the necessary sacrifices they need in order to win.

The author who uses the violence as a means for something else or primarily as a message, who has their character acting in a way that makes no sense because they already know they’re going to survive lands in the “No” category for me. There is no guarantee your character won’t fail. There should always be a chance they will and the scene should be written from the perspective that they might just. They can get themselves killed. More importantly, they can get someone else killed. Stupidity does that. Charging into a group of eight guys intent on killing someone else doesn’t mean they’re all automatically going to turn around to fight the protagonist.

The character needs to feel like they are dealing with the situation in front of them. The author should keep the overarching narrative view in mind, they should think about the consequences of their characters actions. Fight scenes are often treated as throwaways, a character can commit them with zero consequences. The average mook does not have family or friends or anyone who will come back to take the MCs head. The character beats up some poor idiots on the side of the road, sometimes in a place they visit often, and that’s it. It’s over. No more needs to be said. Except… violence has a ripple effect and often the effects are unintended. It spirals well beyond a single individual character, events may end up affecting everyone in their left regardless of their original intentions.

Think about the real world for a second, not in terms of “what is real” but your own life. What would happen if you took a baseball bat to school? What would happen if you started a fight? What would happen if you punched someone out? What would happen if you shoplifted? What would happen if you went to Walmart tomorrow and bought a gun? How would people react? People in general? The people in your life? Do you get detention or jail time? Do people approve? Do they condemn you? What do they say? If you were beat up by some idiot what would happen? If you saw them again with a group of your friends, what would you do? If you died tomorrow, what would people say?

We get so caught up in our main characters that sometimes it’s easy to forget that every character in your story is you. They all have friends, they all have family, and they all have lives that will continue on long after the Protagonist has moved on.

Allow me to use the titular “teach girls to defend themselves as a solution to stopping violence against women” which crops up often in literature, especially in lately in YA. I will list one example where it is well done and another where it fails utterly.

Page by Tamora Pierce.

In Page, Keladry acquires a new maid named Lalasa. Lalasa has a history of abuse and has been targeted by both servants and nobles in the palace for her shy nature. Kel takes Lalasa on as a favor to Lalasa’s uncle Gower, even though she’s reticent about it. When dealing with Lalasa’s abuse in the novel, Pierce hammers out all the different ways in which the abuse is allowed to continue as part of the world building. She makes a point of noting that the abuse is systemic, that victims are persecuted and they are blamed, were Lalasa to take her complaints those higher up both she and her uncle risk being turned out. She also notes that you can’t command people to change, the attitudes which allow the abuse are perpetuated even after someone powerful says “no, stop it” are important to understanding why it happens. They will no longer do it within the hearing of said powerful person, but you can’t just snap your fingers and expect immediate change to happen.
Page makes a point of saying in the actions of the surrounding characters and the events it relays in regards to Lalasa’s situation that sexism and abuse are systemic. Change takes time. And indeed it does, because Lalasa’s character arc runs the length of the novel.
While she think its silly not to, Kel respects that Lalasa does not initially wish to learn to defend herself. She waits for Lalasa to make the choice and it takes time. They both accept that self-defense is mitigation, not a solution. This is harder for Kel, who comes from a privileged perspective, than Lalasa, who is more practical. Lalasa’s learning self-defense is part of her regaining her confidence and taking her life back, she does not take just a few lessons, once she agrees to begin then she works at it and she works hard. She practices often and learns so well that when it finally all wraps up, she takes what she knows and passes her knowledge on other girls. Indicating that while systemic change takes time, people can change and work to aid others who suffer similar circumstances. Both women learn from each other, Kel in teaching and Lalasa in learning. Lalasa is a minor character in Page but her narrative is powerful. Both girls embody change in a system that fights tooth and nail to keep them in their place. Their struggles are difficult and they are real.

Graceling by Kristen Cashore.

When Katsa travels to an Inn, she sees a serving girl being assaulted by one of the tavern’s patrons and moves to intervene. She proceeds to think that if girls were taught to fight then they wouldn’t have to suffer because more violence is what solves violence problems.
However, she gives no thought to whether or not the girls want to learn. No thought to what would happen to them after she leaves. No thought to how this would affect the tavern and the girl’s ability to work or continue working. No thought to whether or not they’d even be able to fight the way she (super powered character) fights.
The total train of thought is “if the girl knew how to fight then she wouldn’t be assaulted” which is ultimately just another form of victim blaming and lacks the awareness that whatever they do or don’t know affects other aspects of the character’s life. This includes their ability to keep working, the fact they may be rejected by other people in their life, what happens to them next, and an understanding that introducing violence into a situation is a great way to escalate it.
It never occurs to Katsa when she witness the scene that the reason the girls aren’t fighting back may be because they can’t or a response to other circumstances, not that they don’t know how. It doesn’t even matter that she’s right (they don’t know how), the problem is the thought never occurs. This is why one of these is “that’s amazing” and the other is “No”. One thought it through while working to ensure reminder to long term consequences and the other didn’t.

Good scenes are all about asking questions and then answering them. Drama is something happens and then there is fallout. Cause and effect. One action leads to another and then another and then another, each building every higher into what eventually becomes a story. If you can justify your character’s actions in story then it doesn’t matter, but if you’re giving them preferential treatment then be prepared to justify it through the other characters. This requires treating them like characters as opposed to nameless mooks or a cheerleading section.

More importantly, a good author needs to recognize that violence creates as many problems as it solves. It’s a short term solution only, one with long lasting consequences. Being good at fighting doesn’t mean the protagonist can brute force their way through their problems and doesn’t mean that they are safe from someone else hurting them.

Respect that there are characters in the setting who are better at fighting than the protagonist. Understand that not all combat training is created equal. Learn what good combat training looks like as opposed to sensationalized training like in Divergent. Respect characters who put the time in to be good at something, even if they are just a throwaway enemy.

Recognize all characters in the right circumstance (or any circumstance) can kill your MC.

Act accordingly.

You will get into the “That’s not right, but it’s AWESOME” category.

That’s my two cents, anyway.


How do you see a fight progressing between superhuman fighters? The people in question have strength, speed, endurance, and damage resistance far exceeding those of regular humans as well as a certain measure of telekinesis, particularly in aid of their own movement. They can change direction in mid-air by pulling or pushing against objects and can run and jump far faster and further than humans. How dramatically would this change how these people fight one another compared to regular folk?

In all honesty? Not as much as most of us would think.

The biggest issue most writers get into when they give their characters super powers is the assumption that they have to use them. Which, really, they don’t. What gets missed most about fighting styles is that all the ones dedicated to practical i.e. real world combat is that they are all about conservation of energy.

Every single person, be they human, alien, robot, or giant cosmic fish has a limited energy pool to draw from. When that’s gone, they’re done. You can inflate your pool by being in better shape, building your endurance, working out, or being gifted with superpowers which give you those things without having to work for them, but in the end it doesn’t change the fact that at some point you will run out of power. When that is gone, it will take a while from hours to days to get it back and that may be time your character doesn’t have.

Being able to outlast your opponent in a single bout is great, but if you’ve spent all your energy on fancy finishing moves then you probably won’t have any left for the next six or seven guys you’ve got to kill on route to the big tower with the super bomb that’s going to blow up Manhattan.

This is why practical martial arts are so dedicated to efficiency, to finishing a fight as quickly as possible. It’s all about exiting the fight, getting out in tact so you can keep going on to the next one. There’s going to be a next one, then one after that, and one after that.

So, it’s really all about changing the way you think about fighting. You’re thinking “how do I show my character’s superpowers by writing some really cool fight scenes” where I’m thinking “yes, I could use my telekinesis to easily bust down that door much quicker than the grunts with the battering ram but what if I need it to scale a wall later? What if the bad guy has a rocket launcher or a tank? I can knock that guy into next week, but if I do will I have enough left to stop all the bullets in that grunt’s machine gun?”

Super powers give characters a different toolbox with which to approach combat and the problems posed by it, they don’t or at least shouldn’t change the basic concerns already present.

“I can only do so much and I have a limited amount of time.”

The limited energy pool doesn’t change.

Time constraints don’t change.

The fact that there will be detrimental consequences for their choices, especially if they choose to waste their power, isn’t going to change.

Even a being with infinite cosmic power can still fail, your heroes are still vulnerable to their flaws, their limitations, and their own egos.

The end goal is still the most important aspect of the fight. A fight is what happens on the way to getting to the important thing your character has to do, it’s not the important thing your character has to do (even when it feels like it).

Some Things to Remember:

Normals are dangerous.

Writers forget this one too often. They give a character a superpower and think no non-powered character can fight them. They become too focused on the superpowers as the solution to the problem and forget that they’re only a tool, just one method. There are many ways to combat an opponent and only a few involve fighting on an enemy’s terms.

They are going to be facing intelligent opponents. Intelligent opponents problem solve and the less power someone has, the better they need to be at it.

Never assume an enemy will attack your character’s from a position where they are strong, where they have an advantage.

HK-47’s discussion on killing Jedi from Knights of the Old Republic 2 is actually very insightful on combating a character with a superpower. The key to understanding how is to understanding how the character’s powers work. Exploiting those weaknesses is key, which means you need solid world building. Characters with the powers are less likely to see their own weaknesses and combat them than normal characters on the outside looking in. For example, HK-47 sees Jedi and killing them from a different perspective than a Sith might or another Jedi might.

If your characters have power then there are those around them without those powers who will look for ways to exploit them, use those flaws to control them, or ultimately destroy them.

“Normals”, “Muggles”, “idiot humans” are the most dangerous because when they are deemed insignificant, your superpowered characters will never see them coming.

Katsa from Graceling is considered to be an unstoppable, superhumanly gifted fighter. So, why fight her? Battle her in the court of public opinion, leash her by destroying her allies, turn each and every one of her actions into those of a brutish thug. A diplomatic, strategic, and tactical chess master in world politics is her greatest threat. The dagger hidden in the silken handkerchief. When she comes at you straight, go at her sideways. She’s proud and impulsive, taunt her into quick action. Feed her misinformation, use that council of good deeds to lure her into situations where a forced response is a terrible idea and pacifism is the only solution. Convince her to kill someone she really shouldn’t. Savage her when she thinks she’s succeeding.

If you have the resources, bury her in bodies. If not, bury her with words. Sow salt in the wounds of those she once considered friends, make alliances with the foreign powers she seeks to undermine, allow her a few victories until she gives you cause to attack those she is most desperate to protect. Take them when her political and social support is gone.

She likes to knock out entire castles, but leave the soldiers alive. Have select trusted forces kill them after she’s gone and then lay the blame for it on the country where she’s harboring her new friend. She’ll survive it all but it’s a mistake to assume surviving equals victory.

After all, what is survival when everything you love is gone? If she’ll survive no matter what then make her wish she didn’t. If her strength is in arms, then attack the mind. If she’s afraid of being a monster, paint her as one and then gift her with angry villagers carrying torches and pitchforks.

Be devious. Be cunning. Be ruthless. And most importantly remember: the truth is inconsequential, perception is what matters.

Basically, be Sun Tzu. Or Lex Luthor.

You don’t need superpowers, or be telepathic, or have super human intelligence to achieve victory. You just need to understand your enemy, understand what they will and won’t do, and be willing to attack those weaknesses.

When facing a telepath, don’t think just do. Fill your head with inconsequential thoughts. Bury the truth deep behind walls of strong emotions. Repeat the same phrase over and over and over until the words are all they hear. Or just take Atton’s advice and play pazaak in your head.

When facing someone with super strength and super speed, fight at range. They can’t dodge a bullet if they don’t see it coming. Gas a room. Poison their drink. Mine the ground they walk on. Wear them down. Attack their mind. Attack their emotions. Attack them through their fears. Take this moment from the Superman Animated Series where Superman critically underestimates the Joker, it’s a great example of how a character that’s used to being invincible can be completely taken by surprise.

For all their power, they are still human and those failings make them just as vulnerable as the rest of us. It’s actually really important to remember that when working with super powered characters.

The person who fights from a position of power will have difficulty anticipating the person who doesn’t.


Hey guys! This question’s a bit more based on culture-building, but I recently realized that the culture in my story doesn’t much allow for the swords, plate armour and other similar fantasy-type gear I had planned. I’m looking to figure out a weapon that could carry similar connotations to a sword, but without the need for a stable smithing community in order to build it. Any ideas on where I could go to research other types of melee weapons that aren’t so dependent on large-scale forging?

If you actually want swords, I wouldn’t automatically ditch them just yet. Depending on your setting you could use alternate materials.

I’m going to blame all of the Elder Scrolls Online ads floating around for this tangent, but the setting has some interesting alternative materials, or at least did back with Morrowind.

The carapaces from the region’s large insects were re-purposed into a kind of light armor plate, and weapons. My recollection was that the stuff was fragile, but, it’s an idea.

Bonemold was a kind of fantasy plastic, specifically, a resin. They’d mix finely powdered bone with some local glue and the result would be a very hard and somewhat light substance. In the real world I’d wonder about the feasibility of the glues, (waterproof glues are a fairly modern thing), and I’d wonder about it being able to hold an edge. It’s worth noting, if you wanted to go that route, you could use something else as the powdered additive, for some reason all that’s coming to mind is powdered granite.

Stahlrim was described as “unmelting mystical ice.” This was incredibly hard, and would be carved by trained “smiths”, into the desired armor and weapons. It had a sort of roughly whittled appearance, along with a deep translucent blue color.

Ebony is an Elder Scrolls setting standard. It’s actually just mystically strengthened obsidian, that’s then worked and polished to a mirror sheen. In the real world obsidian can be formed into ridiculously sharp blades. So, if your setting has the means to harden it to the level of steel, or tougher, obsidian blades and armor might be viable. Real obsidian has a slightly purplish, or grey translucent, color when it gets thin enough.

EDIT: Since I missed saying this, somehow. In the real world, obsidian is just volcanic glass, and quite brittle. Sharp, but it will splinter apart with no warning, and to the best of my knowledge, it’s not something that can be tempered.

Where I’m going with these two is fairly simple, depending on your setting, you might not need to forge your weapons from conventional metals, you could use any appropriate mineral source from your setting. Stone swords were never a thing, but stone axes and spearheads do have a real world history.

Beyond that, some kind of fantasy wood might be able to hold an edge, and make functional armor. This could get a little strange, but a lightweight hardwood, that’s been properly lacquered, and treated could work as some kind of armor. In the real world, wooden armor was never an effective choice, and wooden weapons were always either for training, or blunt implements (like staves), but, that doesn’t mean your setting couldn’t have “ironwood” or the like.

If you actually want to get away from a sword, I’d seriously consider the axe. It has some nice symbolic qualities, as both a weapon and a tool, and therefore an excellent badge of office to show how the king/suzerain/whatever is in touch with the people. Or to indicate how brutal the world you’re presenting is.

D&D’s Dragonlance setting comes to mind as well, as I recall, the name comes from literal lances used to fight dragons (and, used while mounted on the backs of them.) It’s a major symbol in the setting because it’s function is so important, to the point that it eclipses the sword, somewhat.

Staffs are another possible weapon choice, and there’s some actual history for these as well, with some organizations actually using a staff to indicate authority. It doesn’t have the immediate flare of a sword, and you’d see more of a distinction between a staff designed for combat, and an ornate one as a badge of office.

The short answer at the end is, be creative. It’s what you’re wanting to do in the first place, and stuff like this is only problematic if you want to keep it as bland and gritty as possible. People will use the tools they have access to.


In my story, a nation is based on a desert made from whittled down iron from a meteor. Thus, they can make iron extremely easily. Because they have almost unlimited iron, they can make full plate for almost their entire military. What do you think would be an appropriate amount of skill and training for a knight wielding full plate, with this much iron at a nation’s disposal?

As we’ve said before, traditional knight training would last about 14 years. This has nothing to do with the availability of the materials and everything to do with the amount of time needed to train your combatants. If they’re just heavy infantry you could probably drop that to a year or two, but, that’s not really an issue, because you’ve got a few world building problems.

First off, meteors don’t contain a lot of iron. Meteoric iron was a real thing, and it did have some characteristics that made it desirable, but, this stuff is rare. For a meteor to deposit enough iron to really alter a nation’s economy like that, you’re looking at an extinction level asteroid strike minimum.

This means the strike either occurred millions of years before, or your city in the sand would have been splattered. If it was millions of years ago, then the asteroid would have been mined out long before the technology for full plate armor existed.

This is the other problem. Even if you have an infinite supply of metal, you still need smiths to produce it, modern drop forged steel is still at least half a millennia away (and would invalidate the advantages of actual meteoric iron), so that means your city will need massive numbers of highly skilled smiths working constantly to produce the armor. You can’t simply mass produce this stuff. In a pre-industrial environment, each weapon and piece of armor has to be handmade. This takes time, and a lot of effort. Removing the material availability doesn’t help you that much. You have iron, but you still need smiths.

This creates a massive knock on effect. You have smiths, so now you need to feed them. You can grow some food in the desert, probably, but you need a massive agricultural base. Egypt works as a possible model, the Nile created an incredibly fertile zone along it’s floodplain, but that’s not really a desert, or at least, it wasn’t. Deserts have a nasty habit of spreading, and chewing up more and more land over time. Most ancient civilizations didn’t actually choose to build in the deserts, it’s just, over time, the deserts decided they wanted to hang out with everyone else.

This is of course assuming the meteor didn’t contaminate the ground water, which is a real possibility. Water is a critical resource in a desert, and one you really do need for everything. You need it for the smithing, for the agriculture, and to keep people alive. The smithing doesn’t require potable water, but the rest does.

No water, no food. No food, no smiths. No smiths, no armor. No armor, no knights. No knights, no way to keep someone else from taking your chunk of space rock at blade point.

Of course another huge issue is that when you mix full plate with mid day desert heat, you end up with an inventive way to broil your own troops. Just, food for thought.


Fantasy Book Critic: GUESTPOST: Cost And Consequence In The Creation Of A Magic System by Karina Sumner-Smith

Fantasy Book Critic: GUESTPOST: Cost And Consequence In The Creation Of A Magic System by Karina Sumner-Smith

25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding

25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding